Alex Wilking: Navigating the City of Fog — Unimpressed with London cuisine

Photo contributed by Alex Wilking
Photo contributed by Alex Wilking

I like lamb. But I’d be lying if I said I loved it. In the U.S., lamb was a delicacy for me. I’d only eat it once every few months if I was lucky. Britain is so brimming with Middle Eastern dining that lamb is unavoidable. In London, it’s in half the dishes. By this point, I’m sick of seeing lamb in everything and would just love an American cheeseburger with bacon.

America is the home of greasy foods. Fast food like hamburgers and french fries define our cuisine to the rest of the world. Yet when picturing the dining options for the United Kingdom, all that really comes to mind are fish and chips. I chose to study abroad in a part of the world that is hardly regarded for its cuisine. Now my stomach is feeling the consequences.

As a study abroad student at Webster’s London campus, Regent’s American College London, my food journey naturally started in the school cafeteria. There I’m offered an assortment of different dishes, some which clearly try to replicate American meals. The problem with the cafeteria is that everything tastes bland. Somehow the simplest foods make me want the American equivalent. So that’s a bad place from which to judge British food.

Venturing farther off campus yields exactly what you would expect from a commercialized focal point in London: chain restaurants. Chains everywhere. I didn’t leap across the pond to sit in a McDonald’s and eat off the Savers Menu. I came to eat genuine British food. And go to school and write things.

Authentic food came in the form of the British classic: fish and chips. I told myself it would be one of the best things I have ever eaten. It wasn’t really. The fish was bland and just decent, so I was left disappointed in the end. Sure, some restaurants have better methods of making them than others, but so far I’m hardly impressed.

Americans may wonder what else qualifies as pub food. Well, sausage and potatoes topped off with a bit of gravy for starters, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Most other pub dishes, such as a burger or sandwich, are in this same category. The idea of pub food seems glorified in the U.S. and likely so—it’s unexplored territory for many. I’ll tell you now that it’s not overtly special.

This is because pub culture isn’t really about the food, it’s about the pint. The well-deserved drink after a long work day. Londoners will be seen in pubs at all hours of the day drinking and having a good time. There is much more emphasis on what a person is drinking rather than eating. I’ve seen snack foods like chips more than full entrees inside pubs.

Unfortunately, if you try to explore the foods of London beyond pubs, you’ll likely be left with the wonders of the Middle East—wonders meaning lamb. Not that this is bad in the slightest, but I’ve seen enough Indian and Persian restaurants to last me a good while. Yet this cuisine has molded with British dining to the point that food here is commonly Indian, Thai or Persian.

So the choices remain: worldwide chain restaurants, pub food, or Middle Eastern cuisine. That’s about it in London. I suppose I had high expectations for my meals here, but food just isn’t a focus in British culture. If Britain is on the trip list, don’t arrive with expectations of an unexplored cuisine. The area has defined it’s cuisine by molding the signature foods of other cultures together. If you do end up coming overseas, I’ll be here with my Pizza Hut and tasteless cafeteria curry.



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